Remove Adele from the equation, and 2015 was a rather uneventful year in music. Taylor Swift still reigned supreme over everything, on a sweeping tour that included a cavalcade of top-flight guest stars. And as she matured, so did several of her often Disney-spawned peers; Selena Gomez, Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, and even the bratty Justin Bieber, acquitted themselves nicely, via grownup new albums that succinctly obscured their teen-idol pasts.
“Trap Queen,” the single of the summer, belonged to Fetty Wap, and Kendrick Lamar made an impressive showing with his eclectic album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Then Adele finally released her much-anticipated album “25,” preceded by the smash comeback single “Hello,” and all chart-record hell broke loose. Otherwise, you really had to dig deep for these gems (presented in reverse order):
10) Marilyn Manson, “The Pale Emperor” (Hell, etc.)
Teaming up with film composer Tyler Bates, Manson rallied with this blues-metal amalgam that proved to be his strongest work in years.
9) White Reaper, “White Reaper Does it Again” (Polyvinyl)
Every once in awhile, a band from out of nowhere gets the sloppy Replacements punk-garage schematic right. This propulsive combo nails it.
8) Don Henley, “Cass County” (Capitol)
The Eagles vet’s first album in 15 years was jam-packed with killer Nashville cameos – plus some pointed socio-political commentary – and did not disappoint.
7) Wolf Alice, “My Love is Cool” (RCA)
This brainy British outfit led by the kinetic Ellie Rowsell had a totally unique sound, once rooted in the grunge past but firmly focused on the jangly future.
6) J.D. McPherson, “Let the Good Times Roll” (Rounder)
Some singers occasionally dip into the R&B/rockabilly. This Oklahoma native positively wallows in it, with every scratch-miked original.
5) Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” (Mom + Pop)
The whimsical Aussie — who also runs her own record label — has the same dry, observant wait and deadpan delivery as the great Stiff Records star Wreckless Eric.
4) Dwight Yoakam, “Second Hand Heart” (Warner Bros.)
The Los Angeles-based alt-country renegade was on fire on this inspired catalog entry, blending ribald originals with hopped-up covers.
3) Greg Holden, “Chase the Sun” (Warner Bros.)
It’s the feel-good album of the year. No joke. Holden effortlessly writes optimistic, message-laden anthems that don’t ever sound cheesy – a rare feat.
2) Elle King, “Love Stuff” (RCA)
Sure, she’s the daughter of comedian Rob Schneider. But there’s nothing zany about this debut — just ardent blues-inflected rock, sung with old-school passion.
1) Brandon Flowers, “The Desired Effect” (Island)
Nothing released this year could touch this second solo outing from the Killers frontman. You can hear it in every diverse, stunning cut – this guy is seriously in love with the songwriting craft.